The future of fine dining in Portland is about to soar a few octaves and jump across continents.
Thursday night, chef Lawrence Klang of Portland’s soon-to-open Tempo Dulu in the Danforth Inn laid out a five-course tasting menu at the Camden Harbour Inn. The Restaurant Week sneak peek presented a flyover of South East Asian cuisine, bite after epic bite. The gustatory bar will soon be rising in the West End.
From lobster rice crackers served with nutty hot sauce to Balinese spiced duck steamed in banana leaves, the courses were vibrant and unpredictable. No clunkers in Klang’s playbook.
“My palate is trying to calibrate this,” a table mate said as we slurped Weskeag oysters infused with the briny essence of Maine and the tang of southern Thailand. This is multi-sensory fare to be discussed and enhanced with drink (crisp and honeyed white wine did the trick).
The former chef at Natalie’s has reunited with luxury hoteliers Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest for their second restaurant and first Portland foray. Though the high-end Asian Tempo Dulu (translation: the good old times) is not opening for at least a month, put this spot high on your must-try list now.
“Lawrence communicates through food,” said Raymond, proud to unveil his gutsy flavor combinations that have been incubating for the last eight months.
Last fall the chef and staff traveled through Indonesia, Bali, Vietnam, Malaysia and across Thailand to learn this ancient, tantalizing, refreshingly unAmerican cuisine. It was worth every penny. You won’t find General Gau’s chicken here. Or a pedestrian bread basket (relief). No soy sauce either. You want fortune cookie? Wrong spot.
Many dishes were punctuated with a dry heat that came on quietly with a fiery backbeat. Just as your throat is begging for relief, along comes citrus to douse the blaze. Call it a sensory wakeup call, a gustatory adventure. The net result of these ethnic elements, blending and bending on the plate and tickling the palate seems very now.
Next up, the cured foie gras lobster dumpling aswim in a zesty lobster broth was a Bangkok bash! An early contender for the house signature. Diners inhaled the broth as if it was a super premium wine. Respect.
Though these morsels are complex, a focused attention to key elements — taste, texture, umami — made them harmonize. Tasting menus are all about tempting the tastebuds, not filling the gut. Klang’s deft touch is perfect for this style of nuanced dining.
But it was the diver scallop with beet jalapeño pineapple gastrique augmented with dollops of fermented soybean and seaweed from Malaysia that elicited the most swoons. The plump and sweet scallop reminded me of a perfectly executed souffle. Ethereal. Effortless. Impossible to pull off at home. And with Klang headed to town, why would you want to?
Though Portland would seem to have reached restaurant overload in 2015, there is always room for a well-executed, elevated dining experience. The time is right for Tempo Dulu. Tick tock!
Tempo Dulu, 163 Danforth St., Portland.